Plea For Aussies To Remove Bat 'Death Traps' From Their Backyards
An animal welfare organisation in Victoria is encouraging those trying to help bushfire-affected wildlife to start looking in their own backyards.
Wildlife Victoria has issued an urgent plea for community members to remove netting on their trees which would allow animals impacted by this season's devastating bushfires to have access to food otherwise lost in the fires.
The organisation's CEO Dr. Megan Davidson said bushfires had destroyed vast areas of eucalyptus forests that the nomadic and threatened Grey-headed flying foxes, commonly known as fruit bats, depend on for food.
"They're pretty hungry at the moment because a lot of their food sources are gone," Davidson told 10 daily.
The lack of food means bats are instead turning to backyard food trees, but many pose deadly dangers for the species because they can get easily trapped or injured in protective nets.
"Netting with holes large enough to poke a finger through is a death trap for the bats," Davidson said.
"Injured animals may need to be euthanised and those that survive will require lengthy rehabilitation."
Davidson said Wildlife Victoria had attended close to 60 rescues already this year where bats have become tangled in nets.
"Some days we are getting between two and six cases, it's pretty bad," she said.
Disturbingly, a number of these rescues have also involved suspected cases of animal cruelty, with one bat found with its wings cut off while it was still alive and others being let go with the netting still attached.
"This is a really important animal for the environment and it's pretty traumatic for our rescuers as well, as the animals are often really badly injured," Davidson said.
Davidson said most people were usually horrified after catching an animal in their nets but said if owners felt they had to protect their fruit it was important to buy proper netting that won't endanger animals.
"If the holes are so small you can't poke your fingers through then that's totally fine," she said, adding that mesh bags can also make great fruit protectors for a few bunches and branches.
Dangerous fruit tree nets are being gradually phased out in the state after new legislation was passed last year banning the sale and use of those with holes larger than five millimetres by five millimetres.
While the public has been given until September 2021 to comply with the new regulations, Davidson said many people in the community are still totally unaware of the changes.
"Obviously with the change in the regulations eventually it will get better, but the fact that people don't know is a real problem," she said.
The organisation also hopes other states will follow suit and issue similar bans related to the sale and use of dangerous fruit nets.
"It's definitely a problem in other states, they have a shocking number of netting entanglements," Davidson said.
According to Wildlife Victoria, Grey-headed flying foxes have seen a dramatic decline in population numbers in recent decades and thousands more have died this summer alone because of starvation and extreme heat.
Davidson said the threatened species is a vital pollinator and seed disperser for Australian native hardwood and insists Australia wouldn't have forests without them.
"They actually plant our forests, that's their job," she explained.
While the animals are extremely important to the environment, Davidson said it was important that people not touch injured bats, because they are still wild animals.
"We have had people try and cut animals out of nets and we ask people not to do that because they are putting themselves at risk," she said.
"The animals are wild animals. If you go near them and they think you are a threat, they will bite you, as of course, most animals will."
"But if you don't touch, you're not at risk."
For more information, Victoria Wildlife emergency service response can be contacted on 03 8400 7300.
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